Posted in Halloween, Writing

Comfort in the Dark

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[What follows is an anecdote from my experience at the Books with Bite workshop at the Highlights Foundation earlier this month. However, it is also the personal narrative I’m writing with my seventh graders (because I like to multitask). The story is true, but some details regarding other participants and the events they shared have been changed to protect anonymity.]

Comfort in the Dark

When I was little and I got scared during the night, I pulled the covers over my head and squeezed my eyes shut, hoping if I didn’t see the ghost or monster, it couldn’t get me. I guess it worked because I’m still here. No monster ever succeeded.

Now, though, I’m all grown up, and nighttime terrors are a thing of the past. Right?

Maybe not.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a workshop in Pennsylvania with a group of horror writers. I stayed by myself in a small cabin at the edge of the woods with no TV, no internet, and very little cell service. The cabin was cute and cozy during the day, with the windows open and the sunlight streaming in, but at night my cozy cabin became pretty creepy. One evening in particular it showed its sinister side.

The third night of the workshop was “ghost story night.” The other ten writers and I sat in the living room of the meeting house, lounging on comfy couches, sipping cups of coffee or wine, and taking turns telling ghost stories. Only, these weren’t neatly cased in the safety of “fiction.” These stories were true. And they were eerie.

One woman told a heart-wrenching tale about seeing her father’s ghost after experiencing a terrible accident. That one left most of the room in tears. Another woman described a puff of smoke with eyes that used to follow her around her grandparents’ house when she was a child. She didn’t know until she was an adult that the smoke followed her younger brother too.

Some of the stories were funny, some were sad, and some were hard to believe even though the speaker swore they were true, but all of them sent shivers down my spine. Then someone brought up the fact that most supernatural experiences happen between three and four o’clock in the morning, and suddenly the room was abuzz with people saying they wake up at exactly 3:00AM every night. I stayed quiet, but my mind drifted to the night before, when I’d been roused from sleep to see the numbers of my cabin’s alarm clock glowing 3:03. My spine shivered again.

Before long, it was 10:00PM, and the ghost stories were over. It was time to go back to my cabin. In the dark. Alone.

The excitement of the evening and the coffee coursing through my veins kept me up for a couple more hours. First, I sat on the porch writing in my journal and listening to the coyotes howl in the hills. Then I snuggled under the quilt of my tiny bed and read a ghost story (which, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea). Finally, just after midnight, I fell asleep.

At some point in the middle of the night, I became aware that I was screaming. The reason for my screams wasn’t apparent. I just knew that I was terrified of something, and I was screaming. With effort, I managed to wake myself up from this vague nightmare. Then, suddenly, I felt a hand softly stroke my head, running its fingers gently down my ponytail. The gesture was kind, soothing. It seemed to say, Shh, shh. There ‘s nothing to be afraid of, which would have been comforting if I hadn’t been ALONE IN MY CABIN.

At this point, I jerked awake again, for real this time. But, even though my brain was now conscious and every cell of my body was on high alert, I didn’t open my eyes. I did NOT want to see whatever was in that room with me, be it ghost or monster or scary shadow or even just the alarm clock flashing 3:00AM. I did not want to see anything to make my heart pound harder that it already was. I refused to look.

Instead, I pulled the quilt over my head so that not a single inch of me was exposed to the night, and I squeezed my eyes shut until I fell asleep, fretfully, once more.

Then the morning came. Sunlight streamed through my windows. There were good friends and good coffee waiting for me at breakfast, and I felt happy, relieved, and a little curious about what I’d experienced during the night.

One thing I did not feel was childish. After all, you’re never too old to be scared. The night will always be dark, but eventually the morning will come, and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you escaped the monster once more.

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DON’T FORGET– IF YOU COMMENT ON THIS MONTH’S POSTS OR SHARE THEM ON SOCIAL MEDIA, YOU’LL BE ENTERED IN MY OCTOBER GIVEAWAY!

 

Posted in Reading

Book Review: The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

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Title: Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave
Author: Jonathan Stroud
My Rating: 5 stars

Rarely do I find a book or a series of books that I love as much as Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud. This weekend, I finished The Empty Grave, the fifth and final book in the series, and the feelings I have about these characters’ stories coming to an end are very bittersweet.

The Lockwood & Co. series is about teenage ghost hunters in London. It is set in a time when ghosts have become a big problem in society. Instead of just one or two popping up now and then, they’re everywhere, and they’re dangerous. Ghost-touch is fatal, and adults are especially vulnerable because they can’t see the spirits. Children and teenagers are the ones with the Talents– the ability to see, hear, and sometimes communicate with the dead– so they are the ones hired to fight the ghosts, locate their Sources, and seal them to protect the living. Most of the agencies have adult supervision, but not Lockwood & Co. This small, independent group works without adults, and they’re not afraid to break the rules (or burn a few houses down) to get the job done.

In The Empty Grave, the Lockwood team, consisting of Lucy Carlyle (the sensitive who can communicate with Type 3 ghosts), Anthony Lockwood (the confident, reckless leader of the group), George Cubbins (the always-messy, expert researcher), and their associates (Holly, Kipps, Flo, and the Skull in the jar) are homing in on something big. They think the head of the top agency in London is not who she claims to be and they may actually be close to solving the ghost problem. But in order to prove they’re right, they have to face more danger than ever before, and may even have to take a trip to The Other Side.

One of my favorite things about this book is the Skull in the jar. The Skull is a character in the story, an unusual one. He is the Source of the ghost of a teenage boy, but he’s trapped in a silver glass jar, so he’s not dangerous, and he can communicate with Lucy. He’s sarcastic and rude to her but sometimes helpful, and I love the interactions between them. In this book, the Skull keeps trying to persuade Lucy to let him out of the jar, though he’s not exactly convincing. Here’s an exchange from page 99 of The Empty Grave:

“‘Say I let you out. What would you do?’
I’d flit about. Stretch my plasm. Might strangle Cubbins. Carry out a spot of casual ghost-touch, now and again. Just simple hobbies.’

I think the author writes the Skull’s voice really well. Although he can be a giant pain to Lucy, I love his wit and humor and enjoy listening to his snide remarks.

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How I spent my Saturday…

I love to read, but I am often a slow reader. However, I flew through The Empty Grave, finishing this 437-page book in less than a week. On Saturday, I read for hours, losing a few fingernails and gaining a LOT of calories in the meantime. (I like to snack while I read.) I kept trying to put the book down to do chores or grade papers, but I couldn’t stay away for long. I couldn’t leave my favorite characters alone in such desperate situations. I had to go back. I had to know what happened next. That’s another reason why I love Jonathan Stroud’s books. His characters feel like friends. I’m never lonely when I’m hanging out with Lucy and Lockwood and George. (And the Skull in the jar.)

That brings me to the only thing I didn’t like about The Empty Grave: it ended. I loved the book, but I hate that this story is over. I will miss my character friends. However, there is a way to keep in touch with them. YOU can read the books, and you can tell me what they’re up to. I’d really like that.

If the Lockwood & Co. series sounds like something you would enjoy, start with book one, The Screaming Staircase, and tell my friends hello for me.

Posted in Halloween, Reading

Haunted Austin, A.K.A. Be Careful With Your Brain

Happy Day-After-Halloween!

I had so much fun yesterday that I forgot to even post here. 🙂

My Halloween-Birthday was a laidback day of hanging out with my hubby and pets, and I loved every minute of it. The day included some very thoughtful and spooky gifts (such as the eyeball necklace and Day of the Dead bottle opener from my hubby’s sisters) and lots of ghostly books (because my family and friends know me well). I also went to see Hotel Transylvania 2 (so cute), had a nice nap (when you’re 39 you get to nap on your birthday if you want), and had a great time handing out candy to all the adorable trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood. I think my favorite costume this year was the little boy wearing the skeleton suit and rainbow butterfly wings.

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My birthday celebration ended with one of my favorite pastimes—reading scary stories in bed. This year, I chose nonfiction and opened up my new book, Haunted Austin: History and Hauntings in the Capital City. It’s by Jeanine Plumer who, coincidentally, is the woman who started the Austin Ghost Tours, which I attended for the first time last Wednesday night.

This isn’t an official book review because I’m only halfway through the stories so far, but I can already tell you this is a great book. I’m no stranger to stories of local hauntings. I like to pick up local lore on vacations, and have read both Haunted Alaska and Haunted Maine among other things. Strangely, though, I’ve never learned much about my own town’s ghostly lore until now.

While I enjoyed both the Alaska and Maine books, there wasn’t a lot of substance to their ghost stories (no pun intended). They focused on the haunting part and skimped on the background info, often leaving the causes of the disturbances vague or easily doubted. But Haunted Austin is a well-written volume that concentrates on the history of the city and then shares snippets of ghostly phenomena that relate to that history. Some people might be disappointed that Plumer devotes eight pages of text to the Lake MacDonald flood in April of 1900 before mentioning any specters, but I loved it. I’m learning so much about Austin and, to me, the history makes the ghost sightings that much more intriguing.

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So, last night, Halloween night, I was in bed reading Haunted Austin, and although I was loving the book, I didn’t expect it to scare me. I mean, being told that someone saw a ghost is cool, but not skin-crawling, make-you-look-behind-you creepy. And I was right—the book didn’t scare me. But one story totally and completely traumatized me and made me worry I would have nightmares. That was the story of Josiah Wilbarger.

When something traumatizes me, I like to tell as many people as possible so that they can be traumatized too. (I’m generous like that.) So I’m going to sum up the story for you here.

(Warning: You might want to sit down and stop eating.)

Josiah Wilbarger was shot in the neck by Comanches in 1833 and left by his friends who thought he was dead. But really he was just temporarily paralyzed. The Comanches stripped him naked and scalped him WHILE HE WAS CONSCIOUS, then left. He later came to, regained his ability to move, and crawled for a while before being rescued due to prophetic dreams and ghostly appearances. (That part was cool but not what traumatized me.) Josiah lived for eleven years after being scalped, BUT…

“Wilbarger’s head where he had been scalped never healed, leaving a portion of bone exposed. He kept the area covered as best he could with scarves and hats, even fashioning a metal plate to cover the hole. In time though, the bone became diseased and weakened, finally exposing the brain. Sadly, infection made its way into the moist tissue and eventually worked its way to the inside of his brain. The pace of his slow deterioration accelerated when he bumped the exposed spot on a low door frame.”

AAAAAAAAA! EW! EW! EW! He had a HOLE in his HEAD exposing his BRAIN and he bumped it on a door frame! HE BUMPED HIS BRAIN ON A DOOR FRAME!!!!

Forget fiction horror stories, this was the most horrible, disgusting thing I’ve read in a LONG time. I look forward to seeing what the rest of Haunted Austin has in store for me.

Have a nice day, and try not to bump your brain on anything.